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Yohe: In defense of Shero

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Greetings, hockey fans.

In the past 24 hours, I’ve heard much criticism thrown in Ray Shero’s direction. Some of the criticism has come from fans, some from Penguins ownership. I’ve heard that Shero drafts poorly, that he didn’t have long term vision, that he’s left the Penguins in a bad spot regarding the salary cap. I happen to believe Shero did a far better job during his tenure as Penguins general manager than many care to acknowledge.

First, let’s take a look at his drafting record. It was undeniably questionable, especially when you consider how few forwards have made their way to the NHL from Shero’s draft classes. That’s fair. But let’s not act like Shero drafted a bunch of stiffs. Did you watch Olli Maatta play this season? Not a bad pick. By all accounts, Derrick Pouliot is going to become a terrific NHL player. Scott Harrington had a terrific season in Wilkes-Barre, and many believe he will be NHL-ready next season and a strong NHL player for a long time.

Also, don’t criticize Shero for the selection of Simon Despres. He’s a great talent, and Shero did well to find him with the final pick in the first round of the 2009 NHL Entry Draft. Maybe the Penguins coaching staff should have done a better job with Despres, whose physical gifts are quite evident.

Don’t blame Shero for the selection of Beau Bennett, either. Shero can’t predict a player’s health. Bennett is very clearly a talented player who might still blossom into a good NHL player.

Shero’s draft record isn’t great. In particular, the Penguins have struck out mightily in later rounds. Is this Shero’s fault, or are the Penguins in need of a revamped scouting staff? You be the judge. But the fact is, the Penguins never have a high draft pick. On the one occasion that they did – the Jordan Staal trade made that possible in 2012 – they selected a player in Pouliot who the organization absolutely loves.

And really, was Ray Shero’s job ever to concern himself with the long term, with the future? Absolutely not. When the Penguins won the Stanley Cup in 2009, it became clear that the future had arrived. And, it had. Shero responded by giving the Penguins a roster to compete for a Stanley Cup from 2010-2014. And that’s exactly what he did.

Injuries to Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin made the 2011 postseason a lost cause for the Penguins. However, starting in the 2011-12 season and going through this past campaign, Shero gave the Penguins exceptional lineups. In fact, the 2011-12 and 2012-13 Penguins were, in my opinion, the most talented teams in hockey. They should have at least reached a Stanley Cup Final during that stretch, if not won a championship. Jussi Jokinen was a healthy scratch on last season’s team, which illustrates just how talented that team was.

You can thank Ray Shero for that. He did what he was supposed to do. Shero looked at the Penguins, recognized that being aggressive during Crosby and Malkin’s prime years was prudent, and went for it. Did he fail? I guess you can say he did, because no more championships came to the Penguins. But I would strongly suggest that the players and coaching staff failed even more. Did Shero sacrifice some of the future to load up the Penguins during the past few years? Yes. Would he have been roundly criticized had he been more conservative, opting against loading up for recent championship runs? Yes.

Historically speaking, Shero should be remembered fondly. He made some mistakes in free agency – Rob Scuderi, in particular, was given far too much money over far too many years – but also made some strong decisions. His trade record is exceptionally good. Shero did remarkable work in bringing the likes of James Neal, Matt Niskanen, Marian Hossa, Pascal Dupuis and Chris Kunitz to Pittsburgh. Even last season, he gave up little while acquiring Jarome Iginla, Brenden Morrow, Douglas Murray and Jokinen.

Shero wasn’t a perfect general manager. No such thing exists, of course. All things considered, I’d argue he was one of the five best general managers during the past decade. If you think replacing him will be easy, you’re wrong. That he was always an honest, good person only adds to the curious feel of the past few days.

-          Yohe

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